by NATHANIEL NELSON
This weekend, Arcadia will be home to one of the region’s biggest music and art festivals, when Ashley for the Arts returns to Memorial Park for its 11th year. Coming off a record-breaking 10th-anniversary show last year with more than 70,000 attendees, the festival will feature major national acts like 3 Doors Down and Lady Antebellum alongside local acts and artists to raise money for local nonprofits and school districts.
Ashley for the Arts began in 2009 as a nonprofit initiative with the goal of providing families with affordable access to world-class entertainment, and started with a single stage with performances by local schools and artists and 300 attendees. Over the years, the event has grown exponentially, featuring acts including the Beach Boys, Rascal Flatts and Andy Grammer.
“Our lineup is typically what dictates our growth, and we’ve definitely jumped in the level of entertainment we have in the last few years,” said Bailey Waldera, public relations media manager with Ashley Furniture Industries. “We had an increase to our crowd of about 20,000 people last year, so we’ve made some more adjustments to our main stage area to help keep everyone comfortable.”
This year’s festival, which will take place from August 8 through August 10, will include the biggest lineup of acts in the festival’s history, including Grammy-award-winning artist Lady Antebellum, 3 Doors Down, Brothers Osborne, and Billy Ray Cyrus. The main stage was only added after the event experienced an onslaught of 20,000 attendees in 2014 for the Beach Boys –– four times the capacity of the amphitheater that was used –– and since then, it has been the centerpoint of the festival’s wide-reaching focus on the arts.
“The main stage is always a standout, but we don’t want to lose focus on the art,” Waldera said. “Last year, we started this interactive art idea where we added classes where you could go and work with certain arts. It’s exciting to get kids involved and have something everyone can do and enjoy.”
The festival will also feature a car show, dozens of art and craft vendors, food vendors, fireworks and the annual hot air balloon showcase. For the first time, there will also be a “20th-century Circus” with numerous performances and expositions throughout the day.
“This year, we are adding a Family Fun Zone near our air park so that area is going to have a lot of activities for both kids and adults,” Waldera added.
The Fun Zone will include a petting zoo, a mini golf course, and food vendors, along with other activities, and joins other recent additions including an interactive art tent, a large ballpark with inflatables and a section dedicated to STEM-based activities for students.
Locals also get in on the show, including Jordan Lyga, who performs by the name LYGA. Lyga grew up in Fountain City, and has been writing music and performing for more than a decade. Last year, he was invited to play the festival for the first time, kicking off the main stage before the headliners performed.
“They were looking for a local angle since it is such a huge local festival celebrating the arts,” Lyga said. “They wanted it to not just be a national thing, but also to showcase local arts.”
Lyga described his music as soul-influenced pop, which he writes to connect with as many different audiences as he can, and Ashley for the Arts gives him an opportunity to share it with more people than ever before, he explained.
Playing the main stage with national acts last year was a monumental experience for Lyga. For one, it allowed him to play for friends and family in the area who may not always be able to make it up to the Twin Cities, but also, playing with bands like Rascal Flatts and Chris Janson was a first for Lyga and his band.
“It was incredible. You definitely learn a lot from playing a bigger stage like that. It’s interesting to see yourself on a 50-foot jumbotron, in shorts no less,” Lyga said. “It’s just kind of an honor to be considered in that same echelon.”
Of course, the event isn’t just about the big names and the big shows.
“Last year, we were able to raise $535,000 to give back to local nonprofits,” Waldera explained.
Ashley for the Arts partners with more than 20 regional school districts and dozens of nonprofits as a fundraiser and, over the years, has raised millions for students and organizations in the region.
“The whole charity aspect to this is enormous. They’ve raised so much money every year, and I think it brings the community together, too,” Lyga said. “It all goes to a great cause, and it’s really great that Ashley decides to put this on every year.”
Ashley for the Arts will take place from August 8 through August 10 at Memorial Park in Arcadia. Admission is $15 and can be purchased at the gate, and the wristbands are valid for the whole weekend. All proceeds from the festival will go toward nonprofit organizations and school districts in the region. For more information, visit www.AshleyfortheArts.com.